The Row of Trees



There is a place along the route of my morning walks where the trees, planted in a row, cast a striped pattern on the road.

I had walked along that stretch of road at many times of day, in seasons of grey and of brilliance, of wet and of dryness, before, one particularly early morning in spring, I truly experienced them.

Drawn to the beauty of the shade, I walked along the side of the road where the shadows spread their darkness onto the pavement. As I walked, a deep sensation of awe, of beauty seeped into my gut. I inhaled it deeply, drawing in a great sense of joy, astonished by its power. I walked along its whole length, listening, breathing, feeling the expanse and spaciousness of the sensation. I turned around, walked back down the road and walked it again, remembering something, someplace where I had felt this before.

Then it came, clearly taking its form in my memory. The cathedral, the Duomo, in Sienna. The striped columns of dark and light marble like the rows of poplar trees in the surrounding countryside.  There, walking between the two rows of columns, each repeating that pattern, stretching high above my head into the sky of the dome above, I had felt the same sensation of incredible internal depth, spaciousness, beauty, indescribable yet palpable.

It was a cathedral built in the 13th century. It echoes the striped marble arches of the of  the Dome of the Rock, built on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem five centuries earlier and those of the Great Mosque of Cordoba built slightly later in that century.  There are other more northern cathedrals such as the one built a century or two before the Duomo in Durham, England, which incorporate some variation of this pattern. What brought the architects of these great halls to this alternation of light and dark? What gives it such an effect?

When there is sun in the morning, I try to get out early enough to catch the right slant of the sun , the brief angle in its climb that creates the longest shadows along the row of trees on the east side of the road.  This morning I caught it just right. The shadows were long and distinct, the light bright between them. I savored the experience fully as I walked in the fragrant spring air.

Wondering again, I examined, in the Proustian mode, every nuance,  holding up its facets in the light of consciousness. What else was there? What memory? With a kind of internal start, I recognized the other place I have experienced such a great stirring. It is in the forest, particularly in the forest of early spring when the contrasts between light and shadow are most pronounced.

Is there some primordial sense triggered by this experience of patterns of alternating light and shadow? Did our ancestors who created the paintings in the caves of France and Spain some thirty-two thousand years ago transmit the same sense of inexplicable awe they experienced in the forest to their paintings on the deep interior walls, drawn in the alternating patterns of light and dark made by their flickering torches? Was this art continued through the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome, repeating in their own mediums the experience of boreal awe?

It is embedded somewhere deep within our cells, in the primitive mitochondria perhaps, and echoes throughout the halls of our consciousness, like music. It calls to us less frequently now, since most have lost the faculty to hear it.


Taking Tea

Then there was this dream I had the other night.

During their reigns, Khrushchev and Brezhnev had teas made of special herbs related in rather occult ways to their respective names.  On visiting their rulers, people were made to drink this tea, which was, in both cases, foul.  Sometimes still, Putin brings them out and serves tea to those who cannot refuse to drink it. He watches them gleefully as he leaves his untouched.

“Delicious, no?” he enquires with a handsome smile.

Getting Back



It’s tough, but we learn, bit by bit. It doesn’t go forward in a linear way. We keep going back over the same lines as if carefully etching a drawing onto the paper of our mind.

At least it’s that way for me. If this holds,the length of the life stretching behind us has real effect. Pain is a particularly good etching tool. Joy too, its etching more colored and nuanced,  working not so much as a guide in our movements through life as the provider of its texture, its warmth, its tone, hue and fragrance and the ground of all wisdom.

There are times when the richness and beauty of life flow along for some period of time, never, of course, without difficulties, but without real obstruction. Pains are more easily tolerated. Joys permeate further.

As humans, we know these days are not without their number. They’ll flow into other times when nothing feels right and obstructions appear in every direction.  They’ll flow into times when pain permeates everything, the oblivion of sleep eludes you and all you know seems washed away.  One wave dies and another rises, all the same salty, vast water pulled by different moons, stirred by different winds.

As we wait to move to France, there are moments stretching lazily together when the elements of time, wind and gravity seem to be pulling us smoothly forward. We get up each day with the confidence we’re on course and the current is with us.  We sleep soundly and sweetly and wake refreshed. Then there are times when a strong gale we hadn’t noticed brewing to stern suddenly is on us, grey and deeply unsettling, buffeting down to the keel and threatening to throw us off course entirely if we don’t use all we know to keep the whole venture from being smashed to pieces. Small troubles gather together and swarm around so thickly that we can barely think straight for all the noise.

We seem to be coming through one of those swirling times. The weather isn’t really settling so much as somehow we’ve gotten a firmer hold on the tiller.  I could be wrong, but I think we’ll make it through.  The farm will sell eventually. We’ll figure out all the details of what to take and what to leave. We’ll figure out the health insurance, the visas, the banking, the tickets, the place to stay while we house hunt in France–all that. We might have to swim to shore the last mile, but we’ll make it.  Meanwhile, back to writing.


The Work


A move of five thousand miles is both big and small. When it is not being done, it seems small. It is a place in your mind. You can see one thing, imagine another and then the expansion stops. The imagination circumscribes itself with the limits of your own sight–the limits of your senses both physical and essential. It is, in fact, enormous in its scope.

I had been taking it one small chunk at a time. I allowed myself only one variable at a time, trying to push aside all the other possibilities of the failure of ventures, large swings of fate. The way seemed clear. Getting rid of all the clothes that were not absolutely essential. Trying to sell and then giving away hundreds of books, winnowing, winnowing down through the levels of friendship until there were five or six boxes–still too many.  Unpacking all the boxes, full of mildew, where I’d stored the leavings of my children’s childhood, reading, discarding, treasuring, crying with joy or grief at its passing, saving what I could not part with for the moment, sending some to my children,  going back to some after weeks and finally throwing them quickly in the trash. Giving away so many little treasures, things I’ve held on to through moves and phases of life.

Getting estimates for shipping things to France, it becomes clear that unless the emotional connections to things, to their history, have true value, something beyond the mere presence of stuff, unless they add to some crucial continuity of social life, then they will need to be left behind, gone or perhaps delayed in storage. Even photos. Even childhood treasures. What is really needed to maintain the connection with the past of family and the history of love?  All those who have left behind everything to save themselves and their families—amidst all the grief of loss, alongside the anguish, can there somewhere be a deep sense of relief, a deep settling-in to what is?

I will continue to lose sleep until I understand this calculation deeply.  It never ceases to amaze me where the true work of life lies, day after day, moment after moment.  This evening, a pair of young eagles have alighted in the cottonwood tree at the top of the hill overlooking our back field, perching for hours in their strong, solid way and looking out over the surrounding sky and landscape. Maybe they are examining a new territory, experiencing with their expansive perception where to make their new home. They have brought nothing with them except the dust that gathers on their feathers after flight.


The Swans are Gone

February 10th

The Trumpeter Swans are gone from the fields. In the sunset sky, the sky is empty of the flashes of light they make as they fly across the greying clouds towards their nighttime roost at the lake. They must be on their way back to Alaska, earlier this year than we’ve ever seen.

In response, there is a sense of absence, of loss in the atmosphere.  Now we’ll have to wait for the return of the song birds to hear such penetrating song, and for the blooming of the daffodils to replace the flashes of light.

The variety of songs in the March air diminishes each year. The daffodils bloom earlier, even in the dark, rainy days of a spring that never really seems to come until we recognize the season has turned to summer and the days are hot and the sun rises at 4:30 am. But there is a young Red-tailed Hawk and a pair of Peregrines who now have claimed the territory around the farm.  Working in the garden, the idiosyncrasies of their acrobatic flight will become intimately familiar, transmitting some sense of the joy of riding the movements of the air.


A Dream and a Walk

After the holidays this year I was sick for several weeks with some sort of respiratory gunk. Since I rarely get sick (or maybe in spite of that), I felt useless. My ability to sustain a thought was so dull that I found it almost impossible to write or to connect emotion to cognition. Somewhere deep there was an inchoate grief lurking.

One morning I dreamt I was an amateur clown with an act at some sort of summer fair. It was the first time I had performed an entire solo routine.  I was excited and nervous. Dressed in a sketchy mime-like outfit, I sang a song without sound, did a dance to the wind and tried to communicate all this to the small, scattered audience. They went along with me and were vaguely amused, but it was only a beginning. Encouraged that I’d at least been able to organize the effort and put myself forward, I was packing up the site when a man who was evidently a professional clown walked up.  He said he was next on the billing and began to set up with the help of an assistant. The beginning of grey around his temples marked him as a man at least beginning middle age, but there was the energy and look of vigorous youth about him. I liked him immediately, but was somehow wary. He was foreign with slightly olive skin and dark hair, perhaps from Montenegro, dapper and polished. As I continued to pack, he asked

“Are you from some kind of religious group?”

“No” I replied.

“Just an aspiring learner then?”

“Yes” was my response.

Finishing my packing in his presence, my self-consciousness began to return.The gap between what he knew and my own experience was so wide.  How could I even hope to achieve the artistry he possessed, especially so late in my life. He was a “mountebank” I knew, but I still might learn something interesting by staying to watch. I woke up as a decision was still settling in my mind. Continue down this path, or choose another? Does it matter which, as long as you are willing to risk everything?

With the dream still clear in my mind, I got out of bed and found that space was finally beginning to clear inside my mind. Still swimming, as some large fish navigating through murky waters with occasional brilliant flashes of sun, I struggled through the day until I felt an overwhelming need to move, to see something new but familiar.  A walk somewhere near and untraveled would help. There’s a trail nearby that leads to a small beach on the Georgia Strait—a place to listen to the woods and the ocean and see what they have to say about the whole matter.

At this edge of the continent, the water was a blue that was colder than the warm turquoise of the Mediterranean, but so wide and deep that it encompassed everything. The ducks floated here and there, one suddenly disappearing, another suddenly appearing on the surface. Each disappearance was a revelation of the world under the water, waving ell grass and weaving herring—a world extending infinitely downward and outward, joining the sky that extended infinitely upward and out and out. Each duck had its own idiosyncratic way of digging in under the surface. One had a little jump upward and then head a bit flat to the water as it dove. Another a graceful turn down of its bill and a gentle glide down, propelled imperceptibly by an underwater stroke of its wings.  Their combined movements, patterns ever-changing, were a counter rhythm to the music of the ocean. I breathed in the light and the heat of the sun through my nostrils and into the center of my chest where it radiated outward into the ocean and sky. Then I imagined breathing in and out through my ears, drawing in the sound of the moving water, the small waves and the larger crests, breathing out the quiet sound of the water sucking the round rocks. The imagining became actual, my breath making channels through the stuffiness in my head, clearing space.


I stayed, rapt, for much longer than I had anticipated, remembering from time to time that there was nothing more pressing to be done. I stayed until the sun sank almost to the horizon, watching the light change the water to shades of indigo and purple and the wave-tossed logs on the beach a deep golden. On my way back to the trail, I passed a grandmother, her daughter and her grand-baby enjoying the dying light, taking photos of each other against the sinking sun, the baby’s face pale and perfectly open in the aura of his warm bear suit, eyes open wide to everything existing within their scope.



Road Trip


It’s December first. We’re travelling.  While we wait for the opportunity to move to France , we’re traveling to places around the Northwest that have called to us. There is nothing now that holds us back. No demanding job. No crops to prepare or harvest.

We both love road trips, most often on our own. Road trips together are a bit fraught but compromise comes more easily after years of intimacy, years of meditation and years of practice in tolerating the urge to be right. I am trying to actually do what I know, minute by minute, thought by thought. If your truest friend says that he or she is peeved by your behavior, your best response is “My mistake! How unthinking!” not, “I meant to do…” “I really was but you didn’t see” “You’re not being fair!” Convincing the ego is a full time job.

This time we are travelling through the Blue Mountains of Eastern Washington and the Wallawas of North East Oregon. Walter has wanted to explore them more extensively ever since he worked as a fruit tramp in the ‘70s.  We’re following urges.  Since we typically have had to travel in the winter in order to accommodate the farm seasons, we’ve developed a taste for travel in the cold when most attractions are closed and mostly locals are around.

Today, the snow dusts the mountains. We follow Google Maps navigation rather than relying on our treasured paper maps. I miss Walter’s easy expertise with direction, but this same GPS got us through the villages of Ariege in France this summer, through tiny back alleys and narrow streets with round-abouts. We arrive in Joseph, Oregon, our goal, in the evening, at the time of the year when the sun seems to begin its setting at three pm and it is definitely dark by four-thirty. We pull into Indian Lodge motel at six, with snow on the ground in complete darkness. No moon. Debby at reception is covering for the owners who are out of town for a few days. With an easy familiarity, she apologizes for needing to leave after she shows us the room. We spend a cozy evening drinking beer, trying to find something decent on TV, finally watching our old standby “Law and Order” until we fell asleep. We sleep pretty soundly until 6:45 am when the neighbor at the motel, an electrical contractor with a local job, starts up his diesel truck, insisting  it had to idle for a half an hour so as not to “be hard on the engine.” Baloney! His father, having grown up in the ’50s, must have drilled this into his head.  Even so, he drives off after about fifteen minutes and we go back to sleep.

The morning of our first day we try to hike up Hurricane Creek to see the splendid mountain views and get some brisk exercise. The car won’t make it up the snowy road to the trailhead though, so Walter maneuvers it back down the road a way and gets it out of the six inches of snow where it was determined to get stuck. Clearly, this car had not been with me in my back-to-the-land days in Vermont. We walk up the road for a couple of miles, enjoying the tracks in the snow, the white cascades flying down from the tree branches and the views of the white craggy mountain tops against luminous fog and clouds.  We drive back down to Joseph, go take a long look at Lake Wallow with its drifting clouds and patches of blue sky reflected in the cold water and then drive south towards Hell’s Canyon. We can’t make it far in that direction because of the ice and snow on the roads so we head down toward the isolated town of Imnaha, through beautiful dry gentle washboard hills, brown, buff and green blending with the red and rust of the mostly bare willows and native dogwood, with a wide stream meandering slowly at their foot.  Here it’s much warmer than higher up at Joseph.

We stop off for lunch and a beer in the late afternoon at the tavern and store at Imnaha. It’s been there for over a hundred years. Now there are twenty-two people living in the town but folks are scattered around the valley and down the main road. The bartender is a trim woman with short blondish hair and a weathered face that she keeps pretty straight until she smiles at something a regular tells her. She’s relaxed and warmly friendly, moving constantly around the bar and into the back.  Ken, her dad, comes in soon after we sat down at the bar where the collection of signs has been occupying my attention.  I imagine that Ken is pretty prosperous, if not from farming of some kind then some kind of clever pandering. He’s open, wears an obvious charm with ease and is probably pretty smart.

I ask him whether he’s lived there forever.

“Forever is a long time, but I guess I have.”

Accommodatingly, I rephrase my question. “Were you born here?”

“Yes”, he replies. He was born in Joseph down the road but moved down the valley long ago.

“Forever is a lot of years for me. I’m older than I look. You can tell my age when I take my hat off,” an act he obligingly performs, smiling, to reveal his bald scalp with tufts of white hair like tumbleweed on the hillside.

I tell him that we all have our own forever, and mine seems to go back a ways now too.  He talks with his daughter a bit about the project with a motor he’s done today with apologies for failing to stop by earlier when he’d said he would.  A buddy walks in and they chat about the hunters at the motel who had pulled in four elk today.

I ask the bartender whether there’s a motel in Imnahof and she replies,

“Yes, the Motel 3.”

“Half a Motel 6?” I ask.

“Well, yeah, three rooms with bare light bulbs you better not leave on all day!”

Walter turns his stool towards mine to reminisce about Laramie for a moment. Its actually on the TV that hangs at the back of the store.

“The thing about those ‘50s shows was everyone was so clean!” he says.

I have to agree.


As the conversation shifts at the bar, Walter silently points to folded money seemingly pinned all over the ceiling. I nod in recognition, assuming he knows all about this phenomenon and will fill me in later.  Maybe it’s a feat of shooting prowess. Walter surely has encountered this before somewhere in his travels in the west.  Soon an older couple walks in and sits at one of the wooden booths in the middle of the room. She opens the ad section from the paper and says,

“Boy! If you buy 8 bags of chips you can get a pound of sugar free. Hadn’t seen that before.”

The wood in the metal barrel heaters in the back crackles a bit.  It’s toasty warm in here.  The bartender comments to her dad that the hunters should be showing up any minute.

“Yeah. Coverered in blood” remarks the man at the table.

“Naw, some people shower.Even hunters” she replies.

As another friend, Fred, walks in, the woman at the table says,

“Sockeye salmon is 5.99 a pound.” My ears prick up at this.

“Where?” I ask.

“Oh, down at the Safeway.”

“It’s a damn good price” I reply.


I encourage Fred to sit on the stool open next to me at the bar where he can talk to his friends at the table and Ken and the bartender at the same time. He consents and picks up his beer, his grey hair poking out the bottom of his old red ball cap. Ken is talking about the weather and tells me that it’s usually 10 degrees warmer in this valley than up in Joseph, 1000 feet higher up.

“Do you guys find lots of evidence of ancient encampments all around here?” I ask, always the anthropologist.

“Yup, tons.”

“Yeah, thought they would spend the winter here where it’s warmer and there’s lots of game.”

“Yeah. That’s sure true.”

Fred’s turned toward me to join in the conversation and I ask him if he were born in Imnaha.

“No. In Portland.”

“When did you move here?”

“A week later”.

Turns out that his grandfather had a ranch up at Imnaha. Hard to tell whether his parents already lived there with them back in the late ’30s and went to Portland just to make sure he was born safely or whether Portland was where his parents met, conceived him and birthed him. At any rate, as soon as mom was able they took a car, a truck, a wagon, a sled and another truck ride, the get to the ranch at Imnaha. He’s been there ever since, although at some point he traveled as far north as Bellingham, Washington, close to where we live. It was some long while back however.

Ken meanwhile is talking to his daughter about recipes for sugar cookies. Looking at a recipe file he’s pulled from somewhere in the back of the store he says,

“Fifty-three cups of flour, 43 cups of sugar and 42 eggs. Does that sound right?”

“Woah! You feeding the whole valley?” I ask.

“Well,” he smiles, “I come from a family of twelve kids. This is my mom’s recipe.”

His daughter says that he’d better multiply the recipe by eight and starts the calculations. When I ask, she mentions that she starts making the cookies about now and keeps her three ovens going at the store to get enough ready for Christmas.

“I can’t start them when people are in the bar ‘cause then they smell ‘em and they go real quick.”

“Do you ever burn any when you get busy?” I ask.

“Aw, yeah. A tray or so a year. I serve them at the bar. They go well with beer.”

I’ve been noticing a couple of signs, among the many, like “My husband is taking iron pills. When he’s ready, I’m rusty.” “Even a toilet can only serve one asshole at a time.” “It’s hard to kiss the lips of someone who’s chewed my ass all day.” “Buy me another beer. You’re still ugly.”


It’s another that really gets my attention. It’s a picture of a wolf with a line across his face and the statement “No to Canadian Wolves” and another that said, “Canadian Wolf meat. $30/lb.”

Looking away, I asked, “What kind of wildlife do you have around here? We saw a flock of wild turkeys on the road. I’ve never seen that anywhere else.”

“We have a lot of bear, elk, deer, coyotes…”

“How about grizzlies?” I ask.

“Nope. Lots of black bear.” she says but someone else says,

“Yeah. Occasionally. Used to have more.”

“Foxes?” I ask.

“Naw. Wolves, coyotes. Foxes over in the valley one south.”I don’t ask about the Canadian wolves. She’d scowled when she’d mentioned wolves.

We talk more about the holidays coming up and Fred mentions the eleven people that had been shot by three people in body armor in San Bernardino earlier that day. We think together, trying to remember how many mass shootings we have had in the US in the last few weeks. Neither could recall exactly. Horrifying.

Fred says, “I thought of not coming down here this afternoon since it’s the place with the most people together all around here.”

I joke that in a town of twenty-tw0 that couldn’t be that much of a target.He replies,

“You wouldn’t believe how packed this place gets most nights. It’s completely full up. People like it better here than the places in Enterprise even. They come here from there and Joseph. Packed.”

We take our leave warmly, forgetting to ask about the bills on the ceiling. We may have to go back.


It’s Thursday morning. There was a big hole in my night that threatened to be consumed by fears. Burning trails of thought that blaze through the night like slow shooting stars: “I have to have some way to bring in money.”  “It’s not right for me not to work. I’m still young and full of energy.” “You’re full of it”, I told myself. “All this will have faded like the stars by daylight.” There’s some comfort in these admonitions.  I brought my mind to the vast, silent inner space, the universe. It stayed there, interrupted by thoughts of an itching here, a crick there until I somehow drifted back into the realm of dreams. I was awakened abruptly by a noise outside. It’s already 8am. I sleep so much later now.

It’s our last day in the Wallawas. This morning I learned how to pronounce Imnaha with an emphasis on the second syllable. The waitress at the Cheyenne Café gracefully corrected me as I was helping Walter finish the huge mound of pre-cut hash browns on his plate. We walked down the street towards our motel and stopped in at a tourist store with a winter sale. Turned out to have beautiful Native American jewelry. Walter spontaneously bought me a silver bracelet with a turquoise butterfly. What beauty in such a gesture.

Later in the afternoon we take a walk up a road called Rail Canyon. At its foot there’s a place with a wrapped yurt, a fine looking shop building and a small wind turbine and solar panels. We examine the energy production set up and walk up the slushie hill, finding places with snow or dirt to keep our footing and curious about the foot prints of deer, elk and squirrels in various patterns on the way up.

Up the hill, we find a new large home with wind and solar power, much grander than the one at the bottom, obviously affluent. Sauna building with adjoining hot tub.

When we come to the end of our walk at the bottom of the hill again, we find the owner of the yurt receiving an Amazon package from a guy in a jeep. The man with the yurt has long greyish hair and, as he accepts the package, is occupied with this vision of two older folks walking down his hill. Turning to the delivery man he says,

“I’m seeing people who may have a vehicle problem up the hill. They might need some help.”

We say hello and reassure him that we’re just out for a walk and have the car parked on the main road at the bottom. We strike up a chat. He says yes the yurt is his and it’s his bedroom. The shop is the rest of his home while he builds a house on the land up the creek a bit.  He’s amiable, with sharp eyes.  He tells us that he is able to get enough power from his wind and solar to give him electricity over-night most nights but the wind power is inconsistent since he’s not in the current of air coming through the valley. His protected site has its advantages but wind power isn’t one.

“If I’d realized how inconsistent the wind is, I wouldn’t have invested in the turbine. The solar panels work well enough most of the time, but in the cold dark times I’ve had to use the generator once or twice for twenty minutes or so to get things primed so we don’t freeze. I have to rely on alternative energy since we’re two miles from the grid”.

I comment that he still is able to get Amazon delivery.

“Yup. It’s the only way I can get most of my equipment. Much cheaper anyway.”

We tell him it’s pretty much the same for us. Turns out he lived in Olympia for thirty years. As we walk to the car, we wonder if he were a lawyer or a government cog.  Interesting.

We decide to drive back up to Imnaha for a beer and a bite at the Tavern and Store, mostly so we can find out how those dollar bills get up on the ceiling.  Also because we liked the place and want an excuse to go back and have a beer.  It’s more interesting than anything in Joseph at the moment.


As we drive up the road, passing again the undulating hills in a new, greyer light, we share an unspoken awareness that nothing good is ever as good the second time around. We say nothing, curious at any rate to see what experience turns up this time.

When we arrive at the store after driving around several large rocks in the road, there’s more of a crowd.  It’s a bit later in the day, there’s no room at the bar and a young woman is taking orders.  A couple of the men recognize us immediately from yesterday’s visit and say,

“Well you couldn’t stay away, heh?”

We sit at a booth in the middle.

“Naw. You’re right,” we answer. “Had to come back to find out how those bills get up on the ceiling.”

Ah! We’ve asked the right question. Everyone is happy to tell us, but the guy who turns out to be the owner starts us off.

“It’s to help fund a party we have every year. You wrap a bill in a quarter with a tack through it and lambast it up to the ceiling.  If it sticks, you’re entered in a prize drawing.”

The woman at the bar shows Walter how to make the missile, with the help of a couple of onlookers.  There’s a brief dispute about whether it’s one quarter or two, but it’s resolved when two won’t fit in the package.

Walter takes the finished product and throws it hard underhand at the ceiling. It bounces off.

“You’ve’ really got to whack it up there hard as hard!” someone shouts.

He tries again and it bounces. He hands it to me to take a try — me who had remedial throwing at summer camp when I was eleven.  I throw it at an angle and miss the ceiling entirely. He gives it another good whack and there, it sticks!! We’ve passed.

We get our beers and order the least greasy, awful thing on the menu of fried chicken hearts, fried gizzards, special hamburger, fried hot dog and French fries.  It’s the fries.  We’re hungry.

Ken walks in with his wife and immediately says “Hi” to me and then recognizes Walter. He introduces his wife, Pat, and we invite them to sit with us in the booth.  Pat lets Walter help her off with her fur coat and sits next to me and takes off her hat, smoothing her dyed blond waves, cut close around her head.

She turns to me and we begin the normal preliminary chatter. It soon becomes clear that she is in some early-ish stage of dementia, turning to Ken from time to time to fill in gaps of memory about the day or the names of family members.  She is also charming, and clearly annoying to her husband.

We gradually find out more about their history. He is of German stock, she English.  He was raised in Joseph with eight siblings, she in Imnaha with one sister. She tells me she has been to see her sister in a “home” yesterday and they had a good chat. She was tickled that her sister reminded her she had been “orn’ry” as a kid and had given her older sister a hard time. Her face brightens.

“We used to ride our horses over here, tie ‘em up and come in and watch the men play checkers and talk around the fire.”

We tell them about our walk up Rail Canyon Road and ask whether they know the fellow with the yurt at the bottom.

“Oh yeah,” says Ken.  I know him pretty well. He’s a real nice guy. Owes me some for a couple of rides I’ve given him down to Enterprise in the winter to get stuff.Yeah, interesting guy.”

He’s leaving something out.

We ask what the guy did before he came here, curious if we could validate our hypotheses. Ken shrugs and turns his head as if interested in something at the bar. Doesn’t want to tell us.

The thought of Rail Road spurs Pat to question where it is. She confuses it with a road where they got stuck one year, taking her nephew to cut a Christmas tree.  She starts and stops the story several times. Ken is clearly exasperated by her attempts and doesn’t want to be reminded of the embarrassment, but we prompt her and she finishes. Ken ads some details about how he managed to get out of the mud.

We talk more about ancestry and then baking, since we know Ken will be making cookies. Pat evidently doesn’t help much with this. We’ve been at the store awhile and begin wrapping things up.

Ken, who’s gotten up to talk to a friend suddenly comes up next to me, puts his arm close around the back of the booth next to my shoulder, puts his head down next to mine with his other arm on the table, enclosing me.  I’m a bit alarmed but let him stage whisper a recipe for twice baked potatoes, while he clearly enjoys the dominance he’s asserting.

He pulls himself up when he’s recited the whole and I’ve said “Gee I’ll have to try that!”

Walter and I and Pat all get up. Walter reaches over to help Pat with her coat.  While she is thanking him, I mention that “Yes, Walter is a real gentleman”

“My husband’s got nice manners in a lot of ways but he’s not a gentleman like that!” she twinkles.

On the way out, I stop to say goodbye to the man Ken pointed out as the owner. I tell him I’ve heard that he gets quite a crowd up here from Enterprise and Joseph and beyond.

He says “Yes, they do sometimes, but business is slower. I’ve owned the place for thirty-five years and now I’m looking to sell.”

He tells the story of how he had come up to see the area and hunt and saw the tavern that used to be next door for sale.  He was interested, but left without asking the price.  He called a few days later, since he couldn’t get his mind off the idea of starting a business up here. That place was too expensive for him, but it turned out this store was also for sale at a price he could afford. He snapped it up. He married his wife soon after and they’ve made a real go of the place for years.

“Every summer, we’ve had a rattlesnake and bear feed. People come from all around just for this darn event.  One woman from Norway happened to be around here for vacation years ago and someone told her to come. She was crazy about it. She came back every year for seventeen years. Flew people in with her from Norway to the little airport in Joseph. She hasn’t been back for a couple of years. Don’t know what’s happened to her.”

“Rattlesnake and bear meat?” I say.  “You must need a whole heck of a lot! Where do you get it all?”

“People bring in their snakes when they catch ‘em and donate bear meat when they have more than they can handle. They’ll donate their extra tags and friends will go out and hunt ‘em. We keep it in the freezer.  I only take it fresh though. Some of those hunters have to put the bear on the car and go show it off in town. By the time they’d get it to me, not so good anymore. I won’t take those. We get plenty, but it’s gotten smaller in the last few years. Guess not as many people can afford to make the trip.”

We say our goodbyes all around, urged by all to come back again in the summer. As we drive away in the dark late afternoon, dark hills and mountains surrounding us, Walter asks if he should have intervened with Ken.

I say “Naw. If I’d felt threatened, I would have done something about it myself. Just an old guy enjoying himself.”

“Dominance behavior, pure and simple” says Walter.

I have to agree.

The disappointment of a second visit, but still damn good stories.


The Hole in the Sky



We all come from the stillness and contain the stillness. Here we are, weaving the stories of life together. I’ll give you mine.

The other evening I was walking to my car and passed by a pub. In high spirits, a small group of smokers were standing and chatting on the sidewalk. A young man called to me as I passed, “I bet you have a good story!” Bowing my head to this apparition, I replied, “I have lots of good stories.”

The other day I learned from Wilfred Buck that what we call the Pleides, the Cree call The Hole in the Sky. It is the connection we have to the cosmos. It is a spatial anomaly, a worm hole. They say we come from that place and get lowered down by Grandmother Spider on a thread of her silk. We are lowered down to earth to come and learn something. It is analogous to the umbilical cord and the hole of the Omphalos, the place where the umbilical cord was attached. When we have learned what we have come to learn and done what we have come to do, we go back through that hole in the sky. We are learning, doing all that we can to help each other until we are ready to go back to the cosmos to which we belong. We are waiting for our return, exploring here, busy with the things that can be done only here.

We are waiting to sell our farm here in the Pacific Northwest, a place we expected to live for the rest of our lives. When it is sold, we will move to the Ariege region of France. In this hilly land in the foothills of the Pyrenees, we will continue to grow vegetables and find haven for our family and friends. For some time, everything seemed to be flowing in that direction. We are riding the current.  Now we are in an eddy where sticks sometimes rest for a while, going back and forth, round and round or staying still until the rains come or the wind or a bear wades through the water and dislodges it. It’s a good time to tell stories.